Watching the Tour de France can be an incredible once-in-a-lifetime experience (although many cycling enthusiasts will tell you that once is never enough!). By the way, Tour de France 2012 begins June 30 to July 22. But what to do after the riders whiz by?

Well, if you’re watching the Tour, you’re likely a cycling fan (if not fanatic). And what better way to celebrate the tour than to bicycle around the French countryside either before or after – or both!

Of course, you can try cycling the Tour’s course yourself (all 3,479 kilometers / 2,162 miles of it this year). But if you’re not exactly in the same shape as Greg LeMond or Lance Armstrong, you may want to consider taking a tour of the hidden bicycle trails and routes in the French countryside.

Loire Valley

You first may want to check out the Loire Valley. This lovely area just about two hours south of Paris offers experienced and beginner cyclists a great variety of paths and routes.

Pedal through this area known as the Garden of France and you’ll travel through quiet towns known for their charming narrow streets, outdoor cafes and markets, centuries-old cathedrals and sumptuous chateaux.

Those looking for a longer tour might want to consider cycling the Loire a Velo trail. This 300-mile route is comprised of country paths and roads. It will take you along the Loire River as you wend your way through the valley’s quaint towns.

Wine enthusiasts may want to cycle through Burgandy, one of France’s main wine-producing regions. This area offers cyclists more than 580 kilometers of véloroutes (cycle tracks). The routes are divvied up among the Vineyard Route, Southern Burgandy, Canal du Centre, Canal de Bourgogne and the Canal du Nivernais.

In fact, France is full of safe and marked routes throughout the countryside. These are known as voies vertes (green routes) and they’re aimed at families. Each route is only about 20 to 50 kilometers long (12.4 to 31 miles) and can be ridden in a day.

Voies vertes include a trail from Givry to Cluny in the Burgundy region. Take a leisurely spin around Lake Annecy in the Pays de Savoie (the counties of Savoy). Travel from Bordeaux or Lacanau to the town of Arachon.

These routes usually are well-marked paths covered in gravel that follow an old forest path, a canal’s towpath, an old railway line or even a path alongside a lake.

Learn more about the voies vertes at the page on the subject at FranceGuide.com, the official website of the French government’s tourist office.

Getting around by bicycle is fairly easy in France. Trains often are quite accepting of bicycles on board.
If traveling with young children, we recommend searching for bicycling paths and trails located along canals and in river valleys.

To learn more about bicycling in France, check out the FranceGuide.com page on getting around France by bike or rollerblade.

Bon vélo!